CINCINNATI -- The Kentucky clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses says Pope Francis told her to "stay strong" during his historic visit to the United States last week.
"It was really very humbling to even think that he would want to meet me or know me," Rowan County clerk Kim Davis said in an interview with ABC.
"He told me before he left, he said, `Stay strong.' That was a great encouragement," Davis said. "Just knowing that the pope is on track with what we're doing and agreeing, you know, it kind of validates everything."
Davis and her husband met privately with the pope on Thursday afternoon at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., for less than 15 minutes, said her lawyer, Mat Staver.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, didn't deny the encounter took place but said Wednesday in Rome that he had no comment on the topic.
Davis, an Apostolic Christian, spent five days in jail earlier this month for defying a federal court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In a telephone interview late Tuesday, Staver would not say who initiated the meeting with the pope or how it came to be, though he did say that Vatican officials had inquired about Davis' situation while she was in jail. He declined to name them.
Davis was in Washington for the Values Voter Summit, where the Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, presented her with an award for defying the federal judge.
Pope Francis did not focus on the divisive debate over same-sex marriage during his visit last week. As he left the country, he told reporters who inquired that he did not know Davis' case in detail, but he defended conscientious objection as a human right.
"It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right," Francis said.
According to the Liberty Counsel, Pope Francis told her, in English, "Thank you for your courage." He also asked Davis to pray for her, and gave Davis and her husband, Joe, rosaries he'd blessed. Kim Davis plans to give them to her parents, who are Catholic.
Just months after his 2013 election, Francis said the Catholic Church should put compassion over rules, unsettling American bishops who had been taking a harder line on church teaching in the face of increasing acceptance of gay relationships and other societal changes they found immoral. The pope did not suggest they drop any specific activity, but he pressed for a different tone.
John Carr, who served for more than two decades as the social justice director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, summarized the pope's message on social issues as "no obsession, no retreat."
"He said he came not to lecture the bishops, but what he did was to show them how to be pastors in challenging and promising times in the church," Carr said.
Davis has allowed marriage licenses to be issued since her release from jail, but only without her name and title. While in Washington, the longtime Democrat said she was switching to the Republican party because she felt abandoned by Democrats in her fight against same-sex marriage.
Her stand has become something of a cause célèbre, prompting two Republican presidential candidates -- U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- to visit her in jail. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, told members of the LGBT community Sunday that freedom of religion isn't reason enough to deny any American their constitutional rights. Cincinnati resident Jim Obergefell -- the plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, the legal case that led the Supreme Court in June to rule narrowly in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples -- introduced Obama.